RYAN ARTHURS: Self-Directed Residency, 2016

Strata. “The island is pervaded by a subtle spiritual atmosphere./ It is as strange to the mind as it is to the eye. / Old songs and traditions are the spiritual analogues / of old castles and burying-places and old songs / and traditions you have in abundance. / There is a smell of the sea in the/ material air / and there is a ghostly something in the air of the imagination… / You breathe again the air of old story-books.” -Alexander Smith, ‘A Summer in Skye’, 1885


Sweeney's Bothy, Isle of Eigg, September 26, 2016


Massacre Cave, Isle of Eigg, 2016
Massacre Cave, Isle of Eigg, 2016

Outside of Massacre Cave on the Isle of Eigg, I refreshed my iPhone and read about the tragedy that occurred immediately in front of me. There was a longstanding clan feud that ended when a raiding party found the entire town hiding in the cave. They started a fire at the entrance and asphyxiated roughly three-hundred and ninety villagers who hid inside.

Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)
Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)

For the past year I have been photographing thresholds. On Newfoundland Island; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; and the Isles of Skye and Eigg, Scotland. I have recorded remote, outport communities that, in the modern age of globalization, remain isolated. These islands are situated between worlds, both geographically and metaphorically. They’ve come to embody the old and the new—spaces where time collapses, where past and present collide.

Fishing Stage, New World Island, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Sea Cave, Burnt Cove Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland, 2016 (right)
Fishing Stage, New World Island, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Sea Cave, Burnt Cove Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland, 2016 (right)

These spaces share the quality of liminality: they occupy positions at boundaries and borders; their dimensions include physical, temporal, and spiritual registers. They are property lines, rivers and bogs, lochs and ponds. Some have obvious boundaries and borders, while others are transitional and ambiguous.

Drying Cod, Cape Norman, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Low Tide, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)
Drying Cod, Cape Norman, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Low Tide, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)

On the threshold of a cave, I can sense an ancient past. “Old songs and traditions are the spiritual analogues / of old castles and burying-places.” The opposite must also be true. Caves’ rocky recesses trapped the heat of our fires. They served as our earliest shelters, our first stages, and the soot-blackened walls provided us with our first artistic canvas to depict the world around us.

Residence, Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia, 2015 (left) | Tally Marks, Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland, 2015 (right)
Residence, Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia, 2015 (left) | Tally Marks, Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland, 2015 (right)

Liminal spaces disorient us. While we recognize some of these locations for their features, we sense others as a feeling, a sort of thin veil between our world and the next. We experience these feelings in isolated or remote places that instill us with fear and the sense that we aren’t welcome. These feelings are often heightened at certain times: dusk and dawn, under the glow of a full moon, or other celestial events, or during certain holidays, particularly Halloween. Liminality is a key concept in supernatural thinking, liminal times and spaces often serve as settings for supernatural occurrences in storytelling.

Motorcycle, Isle of Skye, 2016 (left) | Two Horses, Isle of Skye, 2016 (right)
Motorcycle, Isle of Skye, 2016 (left) | Two Horses, Isle of Skye, 2016 (right)

Storytelling arises out of an experience of disorientation. It seeks to explain what we cannot rationalize or understand. In a time where satellites orbiting the planet can triangulate our physical location in seconds, the experience of disorientation is more distant. My ongoing body of work explores some of the ancient sites that connect us to the past via the strange folklores, myths and legends that have been passed down. I distill history into visual elements, photographing to prompt future stories. The role of the historian or storyteller is to piece together the fragments she has, and spin them into a narrative. While I have arranged my images, my work asks the viewer to become the storyteller himself.

Sgurr na Banachdaich, Isle of Skye, 2016
Sgurr na Banachdaich, Isle of Skye, 2016

Stories relating to these liminal spaces have accumulated over thousands of years. Information packs into layers of sediment; the mineral strata describe millennia. As the most permanent surface in the natural world, rock formations carry etchings, paint, and the wear of thousands of footsteps. To the trained eye, rock faces read like sentences and paragraphs. The landscape reveals its history.

Ying Yang Wolf, Mallaig, 2016 (left) | Sandstone, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)
Ying Yang Wolf, Mallaig, 2016 (left) | Sandstone, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)

The accumulation and superposition of narratives and culture is not a seamless process. North America—where I grew up—hosts a strange and troubled convergence of societies. The people who moved here in the past 500 years have almost completely covered those who first arrived over 13,000 years ago. Indigenous Americans tell stories of creation and origin; people of European descent tell stories of exodus. Two separate histories cohabitate the same spaces.

Burning Pallets, Portree, Isle of Skye, 2016
Burning Pallets, Portree, Isle of Skye, 2016

On a planet of constant change, thresholds are inevitable. Through my work, I hope to understand and record these transitional spaces, to return to the viewer a sense of liminality, history, and disorientation, and, in the process, reopen the door to storytelling.

Ryan Arthurs was the artist in residence at Sweeney’s Bothy in September 2016. www.ryanarthurs.com 

KADDY BENYON: Self-Directed Residency, 2016

Island of the Big Women.  It started with a painting in the garden office of the woman I admire the most. Each time I visit her, a rainbow-lit candle glows from above her desk and flickers at the edge of vision. It is impossible to ignore the vitality, the hope, the almost musical use of colour in the painting.


'Candle, Eigg' by Winifred Nicholson
‘Candle, Eigg’ by Winifred Nicholson


‘Candle, Eigg’ by Winifred Nicholson (1893–1981) was painted in 1980 during a stay on the island with the artist’s great friend, poet Kathleen Raine (1908–2003).   The two women rented what was then known as Gamekeeper’s Cottage (immortalised by another of Nicholson’s paintings, ‘Gateway to the Isles’).


'Gateway to the Isles' by Winifred Nicholson
‘Gateway to the Isles’ by Winifred Nicholson


Winifred painted and I wrote, or walked off gathering flowers, many of which Winifred painted’[1].

Raine was a poet infused with guilt and sorrow, her love for Gavin Maxwell (author of Ring of Bright Water, a line from Raine’s poem ‘The Marriage of Psyche’) unreciprocated and their friendship suffering irreparably after the death of Maxwell’s beloved otter, Mijbil, whilst Raine was looking after him.   Both she and Nicholson had visited and worked at Maxwell’s home on Sandaig, near Skye.  Carrying these two creative greats in my mind as I traveled to Eigg myself, I was determined to be inspired by the places they had seen, to visit where they’d stayed and to pay homage.  I had no idea that the island was about to introduce me to its latest embodiment of ‘big women’.


Bright Ringed Water
(after ‘Eigg Flowers’, 1980 by Winifred Nicholson)

By the way of the sun
By the dazzle of light
By the path across the sea
Bring my lover.
– Kathleen Raine

Here, take these bluebells,
campion, willow-herb,
vetch gathered out walking
on the boggy moors this morning
not thinking of him sleeping
remotely across the Sound of Sleat.

Take them, please, away from me
before I desecrate them petal by petal.
Arrange them in a jar,
a modest vase perhaps,
set them on the windowsill and paint
them in your unseen colours.

I’ll build us a peat and driftwood
fire as you work, boil pailfuls
of well water for tea, nettle soup.
Later, I’ll scramble down to the bay,
collect mussels, cockles and razorfish
in my apron pockets – not stopping

to gaze at his bright ringed water.
No. Sometimes I dream
he’s a raven come to seek me. I
wake wanting him in my arms, my bed
empty, nothing to hold but a dark
slick feather resting on my pillowslip.


* * *



I had been worried about the effects of isolation on my mind; about my ability to manage entirely alone; about what I would do if there was an emergency at home. Researching Sweeney and his madness during my stay became a permission–giving exercise; a slow realisation that for all its elemental wildness – and no matter how violently Storm Gertrude kicked off and tried to cart wheel the bothy into the sea – Eigg is a place of warmth, of healing and containment.


Birdman of Beinn Bhuidhe
(after Trevor Leat)

Up there among half-lit, half-
mapped crags, you might catch him
ankle-snagged between two
rocks. And if you don’t catch him,
you might catch sight of him –
his fleeting back: its pelt of willowy rods
twisted inward, packed downward
into spindles of ribs seasoned
from green to rust long before
his downy buds could erupt.

He squats on the cusp of movement,
eyes high over cairn, cist and cliff,
one withy arm outstretched
as if to lob a shot or call down
his gods from their beak-battered
shells. Days when there is no sighting
him, you might catch the sense
of a bird or a mind in flight;
a mind unsoothed by silence;
a mind rattled by its own animal

sounds: weeping, breathing, eating;
the rush of flames in the grate;
a demented bellowing wind.
Like Sweeney, I have wandered
these seven years, flitting
from island to island state, uncloaked,
naked, protected by precious little
but this patchy birdwork mask –
its single unpluckable feather fletched
to the back of my draggled head.



The bothy has a way of impressing itself upon you to let you know first what it is that you need, and second how to give it to you. I had been certain I only needed space and time to write uninterrupted by the noise and mess and mayhem of family life. I wrote a negligible amount during my residency and worried about this constantly. I walked, chopped, daydreamed, combed, wept and baked – all of these interspersed with long stretches of just looking, staring through the window at the view of Rùm in quadriptych.


At Sweeney’s Bothy

I am Sweeney, the whinger,
the scuttler in the valley.
– Seamus Heaney

Come here when you’re broken
& take refuge in this plywood space
with its window wall framing

a view of Rùm in quadriptych.
Kneel before the hamper on the floor
stuffed with fire-lights, sooty gloves,

the torn up box of a long-gone year
of whiskey. Feed the ravenous stove &
cherish the splutter of the plump

orange kettle on its top. Nap in the nook,
the book-lined nook as modern-day cist
or cairn or cave. Work at the desk,

antique binoculars at hand, lamp bent
away from the page & the gentle scent
of lavender sprigs in a butterfly-printed

vase.  Evenings, with your face to the sinking
sun, sit on the bench hammered
from abandoned sleepers.  At night

take flight to the mattress in the rafters,
a stripped young birch nailed as a rail
to keep you in… or to keep what’s troublesome

out. Let it hold you curled safe as Sweeney
up his tree. Eye the island in all its darkness
as it reduces to nothing but this black cube:

the wind, the hail, the crackle of the fire dying,
your occasional sighs like ashes settling
into themselves.  Take in all this

and be no closer to knowing if it’s a lunacy
that drew you to this place or if you wandered
here to set your madness free.


Afternoons, as the light shifted across the Atlantic before guttering out completely, I’d curl up in the book-lined nook for a mug of fennel tea, a nap, then a chapter of Camille Dressler’s Eigg: The Story of an Island, which has informed many of the poems I’ve since written, and is also where I first read a translation of the island’s original name, Eilean nam Ban Mora, as ‘Island of the Big Women’, the name I have subsequently given to the pamphlet of 25 poems I have written in response to my week on Eigg.



* **



[1] from Winifred Nicholson in Scotland by Alice Strang, 2003.

RIC WARREN & SCOTT BROTHERTON: Self-Directed Residency, 2015

The Bothy Sketchbook.  Normally working independently, Scott Brotherton (Lives and works in London) & Ric Warren (lives and works in Glasgow) are both visual artists who predominately exhibit sculptural works and are influenced by the materials, forms and experiences of our urban surroundings, distilled through minimalist artistic sensibilities.  Our collaborative residency at Inshraich Bothy (November 2015) focused on the production and processing of research though drawing and initiated a creative dialogue as we developed artworks for our exhibition ‘Greyfield’ at House for an Art Lover. The exhibition for Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2016 presented an installation of new architecturally responsive sculptural works that reflected on the urban environment from the vantage point of the rural landscape, exploring material, spatial and political tensions.

A collaborative collection of sketches, drawings, collages, photographs and experiments produced during the week-long residency were made in to ‘The Bothy Sketchbook’ publication (printed by Newspaper Club), the pages of which can be seen below. We are looking forward to undertaking a residency at Sweeny’s Bothy on Eigg in January 2017 to develop a new publication and bodies of work. More information about our individual practices can be found on our websites.




Pages from The Bothy Sketchbook

bothysketchbook_front_back bothysketchbook_pages-2_3 bothysketchbook_pages-4-5 bothysketchbook_pages-6-7 bothysketchbook_pages-8-9 bothysketchbook_pages-10-11 bothysketchbook_pages-12-13 bothysketchbook_pages-14-15 bothysketchbook_pages-16-17 bothysketchbook_pages-18-19 bothysketchbook_pages-20-21 bothysketchbook_pages-22-23 bothysketchbook_pages-24-25bothysketchbook_pages-26-27 bothysketchbook_pages-28-29 bothysketchbook_pages-30-31


Installation views of Scott Brotherton & Ric Warren: Greyfield (House for an Art Lover, Glasgow, 2016) 

01greyfield_install_shutter_down 02greyfield_install 03greyfield_composit